United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
PAMELA MEADE SARGENT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
I. Background and Standard of Review
Plaintiff, Elizabeth Maggard, (“Maggard”), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, (“Commissioner”), determining that she was not eligible for disability insurance benefits, (“DIB”), under the Social Security Act, as amended, (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 423 (West 2011). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by transfer based on consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Oral argument has not been requested; therefore, the matter is ripe for decision.
The court’s review in this case is limited to determining if the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence has been defined as “evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). ‘“If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is “substantial evidence.’”” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).
The record shows that Maggard protectively filed an application for DIB on February 15, 2011, alleging disability as of March 23, 2010, due to major depressive disorder, anxiety and panic attacks. (Record, (“R.”), at 180, 189, 193.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (R. at 88-90, 94-96, 99, 103-05, 107-09.) Maggard then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, (“ALJ”). (R. at 110.) A hearing was held by video conferencing on May 10, 2013, at which Maggard was represented by counsel. (R. at 33-53.)
By decision dated May 24, 2013, the ALJ denied Maggard’s claim. (R. at 16-27.) The ALJ found that Maggard met the nondisability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through December 31, 2014. (R. at 18.) The ALJ also found that Maggard had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 23, 2010, her alleged onset date. (R. at 18.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Maggard suffered from severe impairments, namely degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; degenerative joint disease of the knees; major depressive disorder; bipolar disorder; generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks; and personality disorder, not otherwise specified, but he found that Maggard did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed at or medically equal to one listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 18.) The ALJ found that Maggard had the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine, repetitive, low-stress medium work,  which did not require more than occasional contact with the public, co-workers and supervisors, decision making and changes in the work setting and that would allow for her to be off-task up to 10 percent of the workday and miss up to one workday per month. (R. at 20.) The ALJ found that Maggard was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (R. at 26.) Based on Maggard’s age, education, work history and residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ also found that other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Maggard could perform, including jobs as a cleaner, a packer and a laundry worker. (R. at 26-27.) Thus, the ALJ found that Maggard was not under a disability as defined by the Act, and was not eligible for DIB benefits. (R. at 27.) See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g) (2015).
After the ALJ issued his decision, Maggard pursued her administrative appeals, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-5.) Maggard then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ’s unfavorable decision, which now stands as the Commissioner’s final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (2015). The case is before this court on Maggard’s motion for summary judgment filed June 15, 2015, and the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment filed July 17, 2015.
Maggard was born in 1971, (R. at 46), which classifies her as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Maggard has an associate’s degree in police science and a certificate in criminal justice. (R. at 46, 194.) She has past relevant work as a correctional officer and correctional sergeant at Red Onion State Prison, (“Red Onion”). (R. at 37, 46, 49, 194.) She testified at her hearing that she left her job at Red Onion after having a conflict with an inmate. (R. at 37.) Maggard stated that she “kind of lost it, kind of snapped” with an inmate and that she “wanted to hurt [the inmate] bad.” (R. at 37.) She also stated that, following the altercation with the inmate, she got into an argument with a major. (R. at 37.) Maggard stated that she was experiencing panic attacks daily at work. (R. at 37.) She stated that she stayed isolated in her house. (R. at 38.) Maggard stated that she was paranoid and would check the house doors, windows and her kids three to four times a night. (R. at 39.) She stated that she no longer went to stores because if someone looked at her, she wanted to break their neck. (R. at 42.) She stated that she “was very homicidal.” (R. at 42.)
Robert Jackson, a vocational expert, also was present and testified at Maggard’s hearing. (R. at 48-52.) Jackson was asked to consider a hypothetical individual of Maggard’s age, education and work history, who had no exertional limitations, but who would be limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks that required no more than occasional interaction with the public or with co-workers. (R. at 49.) Jackson stated that such an individual could not perform any of Maggard’s past work. (R. at 49.) He stated that there was a significant number of jobs that existed that such an individual could perform, including jobs as a cleaner, a packer and an inspector. (R. at 49-50.) Jackson was asked to assume the same individual, but who would be limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive medium work that did not require more than occasional decision making and changes in the work setting, that did not require more than occasional interaction with the public or co-workers, that allowed her to be off-task not more than 10 percent of a workday and that allowed her to be absent from the workplace not more than one day a month. (R. at 50.) He stated that there was a significant number of jobs that existed that such an individual could perform, including jobs as a cleaner, a packer and a laundry worker. (R. at 50-51.) Jackson stated that there would be no jobs available should the individual be off-task at least 20 percent of the workday and be absent one to two times per week. (R. at 51.)
In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed medical records from Louis Perrott, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Howard S. Leizer, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Susan S. Helton, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker; Woodridge Hospital; Dr. Thomas R. Olmsted, M.D.; J. Brook Cuddy, P.M.H.N.P., a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner; Dr. Martin F. Monahan, M.D.; Dr. Robert T. Strang, Jr., M.D.; and B. Wayne Lanthorn, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist.
On April 30, 2009, Maggard saw Dr. Martin F. Monahan, M.D., for complaints of feeling as if everything was closing in on her. (R. at 281.) She reported that she had no “drive” and that she “snaps” and “flips.” (R. at 281.) Dr. Monahan diagnosed panic attacks. (R. at 282.) On June 16, 2009, Dr. Monahan noted that Maggard’s panic attacks had worsened, and he referred her to Dr. Olmsted. (R. at 282.) On July 28, 2010, Maggard reported that her feelings of anxiety and panic had decreased, and she had not experienced symptoms of shortness of breath or chest pressure “in awhile.” (R. at 279.) On January 25, 2011, Maggard admitted that she had taken Xanax that she received from a friend. (R. at 280.) On October 10, 2011, Dr. Monahan saw Maggard for back pain after sliding on bleachers. (R. at 368.) On January 13, 2012, x-rays of Maggard’s lumbar spine showed lumbar spondylosis with disc space narrowing at the L3-L4 level. (R. at 366.) On April 22, 2013, Maggard hurt her back again after carrying a washing machine. (R. at 431.)
On June 29, 2009, Maggard reported to Susan S. Helton, L.C.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker, that she did not feel safe at work and that she experienced panic attacks daily. (R. at 272, 274.) She stated that she was hospitalized as an adolescent after talking about being sexually abused by her cousin beginning at age five or six. (R. at 273-74.) Helton diagnosed severe major depressive disorder, single episode, and assessed Maggard’s then-current Global Assessment of Functioning, (“GAF”),  score at 50,  with her highest GAF score being 60 within the past year. (R. at 276.) From July through September 2009, Maggard reported anger issues related to sexual abuse, her spouse and work. (R. at 269-71.) By letter dated September 8, 2009, Helton stated that Maggard continued to show symptoms related to depression and anxiety. (R. at 248.) She stated that Maggard continued to have problems related to depressed mood, anxiety, problems with focus and concentration, as well as feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. (R. at 248.) Helton stated that she was unsure of a specific return to work date for Maggard, but anticipated that she would need to be out of work for 30 to 60 days. (R. at 248.) On October 28, 2009, Maggard reported that she felt better and wanted to return to work. (R. at 266.) In December 2009, Maggard reported that, since adjusting her medications, she felt better and had improved mood. (R. at 264-65.) She reported a successful re-entry to work. (R. at 265.)
On April 1, 2010, Maggard reported that she had “lost it” at work and that her supervisor suggested that she take some time off “to clear [her] head.” (R. at 263.) She stated that this event brought up issues relating to her sexual abuse, and she reported increased anger. (R. at 263.) On May 24, 2010, Helton opined that Maggard could not currently be in a prison environment due to the potential for “encounter situation[s]” that would exacerbate her symptoms. (R. at 284.) She reported that it was unknown when Maggard could return to work. (R. at 284-85.) In response to questions presented to Helton by Ryan T. Gilchrest, a Senior Disability Benefits Specialist, on June 23, 2010, Helton stated that Maggard had been attacked and bitten by an inmate. (R. at 290.) She reported that Maggard experienced rage and fear generalized toward males. (R. at 290.) Helton further noted that Maggard’s mood was depressed, and she had high levels of anxiety. (R. at 288.) She deemed Maggard’s judgment as fair and her insight as good to fair. (R. at 289.) Helton diagnosed severe major depressive disorder, single episode, and assessed Maggard’s then-current GAF score at 45. (R. at 289.) Helton opined that ...